Whatever happened to competence: Tomorrow, we want to offer a few last thoughts about that new report on black fourth-gradersand about Joan Walshs change of station.
Today, we planned to take a narrow look at the New York Times technical competence. But we decided the topic was just too narrow. We decided to can our work.
Why do black kids keep getting short shrift? Closing thoughts on the morrow.
VERSAILLES AFFIRMS THE CO-CHAIRMEN: This morning, we went to Versailles. From 6 AM until 6:15, we listened to the Morning Joe gang discuss the recommendations of the debt commissions co-chairmen.
We dont have a tape or a transcriptbut scorn was general inside the palace. Everybody rolled his or her eyes at Nancy Pelosis silly objections to the chairmens recommendations. This included Willie Geist, the Robert Chambers of pseudo-news, who plays Eddie Haskell each morning.
Your narratives sound very good today, Ms. Brzezinki, this baby-faced self-dealer says.
(Geist has been slithering up the ladder at MSNBC for a good long time. To recall his thoughts about Al Gores boring climate-change film, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/13/06. Prepare to writhe.)
This morning, Willie was full of scorn for those who would reject the co-chairmen. But Mike Barnacle colored most deftly, staying within various long-approved lines. I cant understand all the numbers, he said, recalling Ted Koppel with Larry King, long ago (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/3/03). But he too joined the general fervor in favor of putting it all on the tablejust before he offered a thought about how broken our politics are.
Too comical! Barnacle scorned our broken political system, in which someone like Warren Buffett pays only 14 percent in taxes. The panel used that specific figurebut no one at the mahogany table drew the obvious connection: If someone that rich pays at such a low rate, might we question the way the chairmen have turned to average people in pursuit of lower levels of debt? In this mornings New York Times, Jackie Calmes includes some puzzling data in her front-page news report:
CALMES (11/11/10): Their proposed simplification of the tax code would repeal or modify a number of popular tax breaksincluding the deductibility of mortgage interest paymentsso that income tax rates could be reduced across the board. Under one option, individual income tax rates would decline to as low as 8 percent for the lowest income bracket (it is now 10 percent) and to 23 percent for the highest bracket (now 35 percent). The corporate tax rate, now 35 percent, would be reduced to as low as 26 percent.
Say what? In our search for lower annual deficits, the marginal tax rate would massively drop? The rate would drop from 35 percent, all the way down to 23?
Paul Krugman was mocked by the children todayprincipally by Scarborough, who failed to cite the actual data which lay behind Krugmans objections. Scarborough recited Tim Russerts bungled old line about the rise in life expectancy. But regarding that proposed cut in the highest tax rate, this is some of what Krugman wrote in yesterdays real-time post:
KRUGMAN (11/10/10): Unserious People
OK, lets say goodbye to the deficit commission. If youre sincerely worried about the US fiscal futureand theres good reason to beyou dont propose a plan that involves large cuts in income taxes. Even if those cuts are offset by supposed elimination of tax breaks elsewhere, balancing the budget is hard enough without giving out a lot of goodiesgoodies that fairly obviously, even without having the details, would go largely to the very affluent.
The idea that co-chairs of a commission whose charge is fiscal sustainability should take it upon themselves to call for reducing the top rate from 35 to 23 is just awesome.
Inside Versailles this morning, this type of pensee occurred to none of the players.
Calmes strikes us as a capable, sane reporter. She didnt fail to include an irony in todays report:
CALMES: Right now the biggest issue facing the lame-duck Congress is whether to extend the Bush-era income tax cuts, which expire Dec. 31, for all taxpayers, as Republicans want, or for income below $250,000, as Mr. Obama and Democrats want. The Bowles-Simpson plan includes one option that assumes only the lower-income rates are extended and another that ends all Bush tax rates and replaces the tax code with simpler, lower rates and many fewer tax breaks.
Extending all the Bush tax cuts through 2020 would add more than $4 trillion to the debtcoincidentally, about the same amount that the chairmens painful options are designed to cut in the same time frame.
In fairness, no one has had sufficient time to analyze all the numbers. But how funny! The co-chairmen want to reduce federal deficits by $4 trillion over the next ten years. And thats exactly how much the current Republican plan would add to those federal deficits over those same ten years!
The children were coloring nicely this morning. Within the next hour, we read the new column by Gail Collins, one of the press corps highest ladies. We found her opening passage repulsive. It may not hit you that way:
COLLINS (11/11/10): I cant stop thinking about the elections. Last weekend I saw 127 Hours, and all I could think about was that this was a metaphor for the lame-duck session of Congress.
127 Hours is the hot new movie about Aron Ralston, a real-life hiker who went for a jaunt through the Utah wilderness and fell into a hole, where his arm was pinned under an 800-pound boulder for, um, 127 hours. Then he sawed off his arm with a really, really dull knife, rappelled 60 feet to the canyon floor and walked several miles in the midday desert sun before being found by a family of Dutch tourists, who gave him water and two Oreo cookies.
So I just sat there free-associating about politics. The boulder was the deficit, and the arm was the Bush tax cut for the wealthy. While he was trapped, Ralston was tortured by a lot of buzzing, stinging and biting insects, all of whom resembled Mitch McConnell.
Theres something so wrong in this ladys sick head that the analysts tend to look away. Before long, of course, this highest lady found a way to spend two paragraphs onwho else?Bristol Palin. This followed her equally long waste-of-time concerning Kanye West.
Incessant deflection defines Collins style. Routinely, the lady burns two-thirds of her column before she moves to her point. Today, the high lady finally penned some pensees about a highly relevant erathe American Gilded Age. Predictably, she ran all around, failing to capture the point:
COLLINS: David Kennedy of Stanford University theorized in a postelection Op-Ed in The Times that were reliving the late 19th-century Gilded Age, when all the presidents proved to be hapless, Congress switched back and forth madly as voters threw the bums out over and over again, and the country experienced a raft of critical problems and impending crises, combined with abject political paralysis.
The Gilded Age also happened to be the time when the media was wildly fragmented, with thousands of small, underfinanced local newspapers all yapping frantically to try to make an impression. This produced a climate of semihysterical sensationalism, along with some of my all-time favorite headlines. One about Gov. Oliver Morton read: A Few of the Hellish Liaisons of, and Attempted Seductions by, Indianas Favorite Stud-Horse.
This sounds so familiar that I am pretty sure Professor Kennedy is right. So the message is that we should hunker down and wait for the next Teddy Roosevelt to come to our rescue. And then it will almost be time for Prohibition.
On the other hand, the Gilded Age had Mark Twain and Eugene Debs and Lillian Russell, who exemplified a beauty standard that extolled fleshy women. A Virginia City man writing to a friend about a tightrope walker named Ella LaRue said admiringly: Great shapemore of it than I ever saw in any female. Immense across the hipshuge thighs.
Maybe it wont be so bad after all.
To a more focused mind, the Gilded Age was a time when the type of people for whom Collins covers looted everyone else in the country. But Collins, a former beard for a billionaire mayor, is incapable of asking her readers to think about something like that.
On Sunday, Nicholas Kristof described the facts about our current political culture. We live in a banana republic, he wrote; all the loot is being shoveled into a very small number of pockets. None of his facts are really in doubt; these facts define a stunning, new Gilded Age. The only question one can ask is how often a journalist cites those facts, and what he or she says about them.
This morning, Collins cited the first Gilded Age, a highly relevant era. But she simpered and clowned about even this topic, mentioning everything but the key fact:
As in that age, so too today: The Power Elite is finding ways to vacuum every last dollar. Our prediction: As with flat tax proposals of the last decade, a central fact may emerge from the complexities of the co-chairmens plan. That central fact will be this: If the chairmen get their way, the tax burden will end up being lowered on people like Buffett.
This fact wont be mentioned on Morning Joeor when a high lady speaks. Increasingly, youre living in a banana republicbut how many pundits will tell you that fact.? More importantly:
How many liberal pundits will look for ways to convey this fact across self-defeating tribal lines? After all, the great mass of conservatives are getting ripped off in this new Gilded Age, just like the great mass of liberals.
Can pseudo-liberals bring themselves to convey this fact across tribal lines? Or do we prefer the unspeakable joy of war with the other vile side?
For a similar reaction to the reaction: See Digby; just click here.